The Philippines is consistently ranked among the top countries unsafe for journalists and media makers. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), for instance, ranked the country as second most unsafe location in the world for journalists .
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), seventy-seven journalists have been killed in the Philippines since 1992, seventy-five of whom were murdered and sixty-eight of whom killed with impunity . The Centre for Media Responsibility and Freedoms (CMFR) maintains a database on the killing of journalists in the Philippines since 1986. The database reports 151 work-related killings since 1986  of which sixty-eight work in radio and fifty-eight work in print . 57 percent of the killings happened in the Mindanao region.
The most notable case of impunity in journalist killings in the country is the Ampatuan Massacre (or the Maguindanao Massacre) in which 58 people were killed, 32 of which were journalists, on 23 November 2009. As of 5 January 2016, 113 of the 197 accused of being involved in the massacre have been arrested but the trial is still on-going and fraught with delays .
In order to begin exploring this topic, from June to July 2016, interviews were conducted with journalists in the Philippines to explore how they perceive their security and safety as journalists, and their strategies to keep themselves secure.
About the respondents
- The journalists that were interviewed was a mix of full-time employed and freelance journalists. Ten journalists employed full-time with different news agencies, one TV show host, and three freelance journalists who contribute regularly to both mainstream and independent news agencies.
- While eleven of the journalists work in online news, and four in radio, most of the journalists have experience in print, broadcast, video and radio newsroom.
- There is vast journalistic experience among the respondents. Six respondents have been working as journalists for ten to sixteen years, four have over twenty years of experience; while only four have less than ten years of experience.
- Most of the respondents cover multiple geographical locations within and outside the Philippines. Twelve cover Metro Manila and the National Capital Region; six cover the Central Philippines region – The Visayas (Bacolod, Iloilo, Tacloban); and three cover Mindanao. Three of the respondents also cover countries outside of the Philippines.
- Beats and thematic focus was also varied among the respondents. Six covered politics (elections, government, local government, and laws); another six focus on human rights (labour rights, indigenous people´s rights, women´s rights, and children's rights); five respondents cover peace and conflict issues, specifically the Bangsamoro, and the National Democratic Front (NDF) negotiations with The Philippine government.
On the value of sources and communicating with them
All the respondents were unanimous on the importance of having first-hand, direct sources. Some mentioned about getting leads from social media to get to first-hand sources or to cover events.
They were also unanimous in saying that getting and maintaining good sources takes a lot of work and perseverance.
All respondents prefer to have direct contact: face-to-face interviews with sources. However there are instances, when the safety of both the source and the journalists is at risk. In these cases they opt to use phone calls and SMS. Increasingly, they are using social media (private messages on Facebook or direct messages on Twitter) to initiate contact with sources, or to set-up meetings with them.
All of the respondents use a mix of different tools to store the information that they gather from their sources. None of them use encryption tools.
One of the challenges, according to some of the respondents, is the lack of open data available and the difficulty in getting statistics and other information from government agencies in The Philippines. Having contacts in government agencies to get information is important, but not always possible.
A respondent says (paraphrased and translated): ¨Usually our struggle is actually with government offices. But other than that, nothing serious. With official documents, sometimes we also ask other organisations if they have one. For official denial, I remembered that Noynoy Aquino administration denied us media accreditation for his inauguration. You need a great amount of patience. I’ve experienced being asked to wait for six hours for a fifteen-minute interview. You just have to be pushy and do everything that you can, and always call and ask.¨
There is a specific challenge to journalists not based in urban centres in the Philippines. One respondent says (paraphrased and translated): ¨ …the common ones that we get here when you’re in the periphery is that if you want to get information from official sources, you have to go to the urban centres. Sometimes, even if the event has happened here in our area, and we need to get official statements from sources, it’s the media from the urban centers that get the stories ahead of us. There’s also this norm that they only give the stories to media they know. I’m also referring to the police and to the military, where they want the sources to centralise their statement to their chief information officer, who’s usually in the center. It’s difficult for us to get that information that’s why we capitalize in our access to the grassroots communities. There are also agencies where they don’t have regional offices here in the provinces. You need time to access them, but if you’re pressed for time, we rely on colleagues based in the urban areas. If you want to get statement from Commission of Human Rights, they don’t have offices here in the provinces, so we have to use our connections to reach them, and if you’re able to reach them, it’s difficult to earn their trust, since they don’t know us. If we try to access materials on their website, since they’re supposed to make information accessible there, they’re not there.¨
Perception of security and mitigation strategies
When asked about the threats that they face as part of their work, the journalists had varied responses:
- Physical security was a priority. Not surprising, given that he Philippines is constantly on the list of countries where journalists are likely to get killed on the job.
- One respondent talked about their news agency being directly hacked.
- Some talked about being trolled, stalked online, and threatened.
Some have received security training from other organisations, so there is awareness of risk and a few mitigation tactics exist. For mitigating information security threats, most of the respondents have basic awareness of personal and digital security tactics. They share a range of tactics for both physical and digital security.
One respondent says: (translated) ¨I try to, but it´s hard. I try to always, at least regularly change my passwords. Using different passwords for different accounts. It helps that there are different layers -- like the accounts through your phone, like with email, there are several ways to verify your accounts. I´m not comfortable leaving my laptop open when I'm in public. Because your work files are there, even your personal accounts. And there have been incidents when people have been hacked, and they [hackers] post on their Facebook profiles. For me, that's really tragic. Even if it's not deliberate, like if your phone gets stolen. Even just losing a device, that's such a big deal for both professional and personal reasons. Even your personal photos, right? Why will you want anyone to have access to that?
And I think we should be careful about clicking links. You get this email that you have a message from a third party site, before I would open it, but now I never open them. Well, we're more familiar with spam, and when your friends get stolen from (through that).¨
Another one focuses on physical security tactics: (paraphrased and translated) ¨If the area is high risk, we have to have a buddy when covering. Like for example in Hacienda Luisita, we should always have a pair when covering, and we don’t stay overnight in the area. We should be on our way home before it goes dark. We also update our friends and family through texts like “we’re already here in the area” or “we arrived safe.”
When asked if their perception of risk due to their work as journalists, most of the respondents mentioned the increasing risk of online surveillance. Most of them were sure they were somehow being watched online. The online risks that they have faced or heard about include: their news agency website being hacked, being trolled online, having their accounts suspended through a mass of complaints whenever they publish anything against the current government, and being cyberbullied.
All the respondents understand that their work comes with risk. One particular respondent had an insight about information security that encapsulates the challenges faced when it comes to securing journalists: (Paraphrased and translated) ¨We have had training to be more careful and aware. Encryption -- although you need competence in that. With everything we have to deal with to get our stories out, I can´t build skills in encryption. Why would I want to develop skills to hide information when it´s my job to share information? That´s a paradox. Just think that you have to be careful with the information that you get and the information that you get out. For as long as what you do is for the common good.¨
Although, for some of them, they believe that they are not specifically in any kind of physical danger. Upon asking why, no clear explanations were given. Meaning it’s likely to be a perceived sense or feeling of security.
The 2016 interviews are useful baseline information for how journalists perceive their safety and security online. But the interviews took place more than one year ago. Since then, the political climate and situation in the Philippines has changed significantly. So has the social media landscape, behavior and to some extend the culture in the country. It would be interesting to explore with the same respondents, perhaps even with a bigger sample size, how journalists perceive their safety and security in 2017.
When it comes to journalist safety and security, the digital aspect of their work is left out and unexplored – which is a gap in understanding the full risks that they face. From the interviews, we learned that most journalists had an awareness of digital and online risks, but haven't made clear connections between how they communicate online vis-à-vis their physical safety as journalists. This connection needs further exploration.
As an organisation that provides digital security training, this research has yielded some insight that will be valuable in designing workshops for journalists. Specifically:
- Ensuring that the connection between digital communication risks and physical risks are made clear and are also based on the actual experiences of journalists;
- Making digital security as convenient as possible, given that it tends to fall by the wayside when the journalists become concerned with their stories and their work;
- For any digital security training to focus on securing communications with sources, and securing archiving practices for journalists.
 “PH 2nd most dangerous country for journalists – IFJ”' Philippine Daily Inquirer, http://globalnation.inquirer.net/135916/ph-2nd-most-dangerous-country-for-journalists-in-past-25-years-ifj
 Committee to Protect Journalists: https://cpj.org/asia/philippines/
 CMFR Database on Killing of Journalist in the Philippines http://cmfr-phil.org/mediakillings/charts.php
 CMFR Database on Killing of Journalist in the Philippines (by medium) http://cmfr-phil.org/mediakillings/charts.php
 “No justice yet for victims of Maguindanao carnage”' Philippine Daily Inquirer, http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/752535/no-justice-yet-for-victims-of-maguindanao-carnage
By Yerry Borang and Egbert Wits
Earlier in 2017, in collaboration with Citizen Lab, we spoke to journalists from Papua, Aceh, and Central Java in an effort to find out the current situation regarding the safety of journalists there. In total, 16 journalists were interviewed, with a focus on digital security and how journalists (safely) use technology. Besides Indonesia, this research was also conducted in the Philippines.
Although there’s a growing number of websites that can help you work more safely, a larger narrative discussing the pros and cons of digital security for journalists and the digital security challenges they face in today’s fast-paced, “instant deadline” world is missing. We hope that sharing the outcomes from our research in Indonesia can help contribute to this discussion. Let’s start by looking at journalistic education.
10 out of the 16 interviewed journalists have received journalistic education. While physical safety in the field was given ample attention in their curriculum, information on digital security was completely absent. "There was no attention on digital security during my journalistic education" (Jakarta no.2). When looking into journalistic education at several Indonesian universities in Java  today, we found that none of the institutions have an introduction to digital safety or security for journalists. On the job training perhaps? That was also not the case. None of our interviewed journalists’ employers had offered an extra training on security or safety issues. Existing knowledge on digital safety is minimal and comes mostly from peer sharing among journalists. A general rule of thumb we discovered from the Indonesian journalists is that they start learning or searching for information after they felt threatened, abused or were otherwise negatively impacted as a result of their journalistic practice.
The lack of training on online and offline safety is an alarming fact given that the safety of journalists in Indonesia is precarious, to say the least. Human Rights Watch reports  that violence against journalists in Indonesia is on the rise. The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), an Indonesian non-governmental union, reported that there were 78 incidents of violent attacks on journalists in 2016 , including those by security forces. A stark increase compared with 42 in 2015, and 40 in 2014. AJI found that attackers have been brought to justice in only a few of these 78 incidents. And even though there are several laws  protecting Indonesian journalists, access to justice is still difficult.
All the journalists in our research primarily rely on their smartphones for communication and the recording of interviews. Contacts of sources are saved in the device and Whatsapp chat groups are important sources of information and a place to share. Only 3 out of 16 journalists believe the data in their mobile phones are secure if used properly. Methods like encrypted messaging are not widely known, although most realize that sending sensitive information is better not done through mobile chat applications or regular text messages. "Important messages are better not sent by regular sms. Just to be safe." (Papua no.1).
Remarkably, most journalists realize that they are prone to outsiders tapping into their phones or investigating the data in them. Yet, they do little to prevent it, and some just hope for the best: "I just hope it's safe to use Whatsapp. I use it as there's no other alternative" (Jakarta no.2). Others just try to be cautious: “We have to be more cautious in using application and digital devices” (Jakarta no.7). But generally speaking, journalists do too little. With 6 out of 16 answering “yes” to being asked if they suspected that they were under any kind of digital or physical danger due to their work, their lack of preemptive action comes as a surprise. It’s almost as if they take the current situation for granted.
Keeping the Personal Separate from the Professional
11 out of 16 journalists regularly use their personal numbers and/or social media accounts for their work. Although many stated that it is better to keep personal social media accounts and phone numbers separate, a variety of reasons led them to abandon this principle. Convenience, frequently working outside of office hours, close ties among journalists, and the lack of office equipment were the reasons most mentioned for using personal accounts and numbers while performing professional duties.
Due to journalists’ inability to separate the personal from the professional some have had to discontinue or even entirely delete their social media accounts. "I have deleted all my social media accounts. No more Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for me. Just to be safe." (Jakarta no.5) Journalists also mentioned being bullied or receiving threats through their social media accounts. An additional danger is that journalists’ private details (family members, addresses, favourite hangouts, etc.) are can be easily discovered online. It’s a big question if this is preventable, as journalists’ names are often mentioned alongside articles in Indonesia. A simple Google search based on someone’s name often reveals quite a lot about their private life.
Safety of Data
Only 5 out of 16 journalists mentioned that their companies had specific policies on the use of software, online administration, and saving data. Upon further questioning, this mainly referred to naming files (archiving and database storage) and having access to passwords which allow for articles being published. Most journalists use personal laptops, smartphones, SD-cards or other devices to store interview data. Almost all use online storage software (Google Drive or Dropbox) for backing up their data.
Regarding the safety of data, this comment is exemplary: “No matter how good we save our data in electronic devices, it still can be hacked by certain people” (Jakarta no.10). Journalists seem to be aware of the danger, but feel there is little they can do about it. The convenience of, for instance, saving information on a personal smartphone, and lack of (more secure) alternatives are the comments that are most often heard. None of the journalists’ employers have strict safety procedures and sharing computers at the office is commonplace. Even login passwords to computers are shared in case there is a problem or if certain files need to be accessed. In general, the safety of stored data is not considered an issue.
Jakarta versus Outer Regions
A stark contrast was seen between journalists operating in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, versus those active in the outer regions of the archipelago. Journalists in Jakarta feel much safer and often mention that working in more remote locations is more dangerous. “Working in other places outside Jakarta is still dangerous. My fellow journalists there often get terrorized. But in Jakarta, we are still reasonably free.” (Jakarta no.3) The biggest threats mentioned are local actors. For example, local industries, local government officials, entrepreneurs/companies working in resource extraction industries and (extremist) civil society groups.
We suspect that this contrast between Jakarta and the outside regions is largely due to varying degrees of internet access and civilians’ access to information. Additionally, any event taking place in Jakarta quickly becomes national news. In the outer regions, internet penetration is lower and having access to news is more difficult. What happens local, often stays local; allowing local actors more freedom to act "unnoticed".
Getting Indonesian journalists to use legitimate operational software is a challenge. Almost all use pirated copies, meaning they don’t receive regular security updates and live malware protection is missing.
Besides providing original copies of operational software, employers should provide more assistance to the journalists. A monthly working group comprised of journalists to discuss and investigate digital security issues could make a difference. Again, there’s plenty of software and online courses out there, but if employers are not encouraging their journalists to upgrade their level of security, the existing status quo is likely to adhere.
The conclusion of our interviews with Indonesian journalists is that they take digital security very lightly. Combined with the perception that there is little they can do about it, the current situation is not a good one. Most importantly, journalists will have to become more aware that lax digital security can have a very negative impact. Not only for the journalists themselves, but also for their sources, families, employers and the public.
1 Amongst others, we looked at UGM (Yogyakarta), UNPAD (Bandung), UI (Jakarta). Here a link with an example of a representative curriculum. Communication Studies at the Journalist Dept of Atma Jaya University (Jakarta).
3 This number only captures the violence faced by “professional” journalists. There are many more unreported cases where victims were citizen journalists or freelancers.
4 Some examples: Article 28 of the Indonesian Constitution (1945), grants the Freedom of expression to every human being. Human Rights Law, UU No. 39 (1999). Press Law, UU No.40 (1999). Broadcasting Law (UU Penyiaran).